219. Letter From President Johnson to Vice President Humphrey1

Dear Mr. Vice President:

I have studied with great interest your thoughtful memorandum2 giving me your observations concerning the Central Intelligence Agency and your suggestion that a task force be established to review the Agency’s organization, operations and leadership.

First, let me say that I am in general accord with your constructive suggestions, and that I appreciate very much the genuine interest which prompted you to write to me.

With respect to your principal recommendation that a task force be established to review briefly the operations of the Central Intelligence Agency, I am pleased to advise you that I presently have, in operation, [Page 486] a review and advisory committee whose functions include, but are not limited to, the several CIA problem areas outlined in your memorandum. This body is the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, established by Executive Order No. 10938.3

The Board was constituted by President Kennedy in 1961, immediately following the disaster suffered by the United States at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs. The major responsibilities of the Board include: (1) conducting a continuing review and assessment of all functions of the Central Intelligence Agency and of the other executive departments and agencies having foreign intelligence responsibilities, and (2) providing advice and recommendations to the President with respect to the objectives and conduct of the foreign intelligence activities of the United States which are required in the interests of foreign policy, national defense and security. (Attachment No. 1 is a copy of the Executive Order which established the Board.)4

The Board’s review functions include not only the organization, management and operations of the Central Intelligence Agency but also the review of all the intelligence activities of the Departments of State, Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, the Unified, Specified and Component Commands, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Service Cryptologic Agencies. It seems to me that this broad assignment is preferable to an approach which would confine review functions to the Central Intelligence Agency alone, particularly since the CIA is but one segment of our foreign intelligence structure and its current budget is only about one-seventh of the total foreign intelligence budget.

In my judgment, because of their size, cost, complexity and crucial importance, the various foreign intelligence agencies should be the subject of intensive and continuing review within the Executive Branch, rather than the object of examination by an ad hoc task force having no responsibility for following up the recommendations which such a task force might submit. (The ad hoc study group approach was tried and found wanting by earlier administrations with the result that a continuing review body was first established for this purpose by President Eisenhower in 1956.) Further, it is my belief that the reviewing board should be composed of experts whose specialized backgrounds and experience can, on a continuing basis, be brought to bear on the consideration of significant foreign intelligence problems. An added requirement is that the review groups should perform its sensitive responsibil ities [Page 487] objectively and impartially, with a minimum of public fanfare and with no organizational ties to any of the intelligence agencies.

In my opinion the present Board has clearly demonstrated that it meets the above requirements for a review body charged with the task of continually appraising the coordination, organization, management, objectives and conduct of the intelligence and related activities which make up the total U.S. foreign intelligence effort. (Attachment No. 2 identifies the individuals who compose the Board and includes a thumbnail sketch of the specialized knowledge and experience which each brings to the Board’s deliberations.)5

Since its establishment in 1961 the Board has held 30 separate meetings covering a period of 47 working days. In between its regular meetings it has carried out its review and assessment functions through: (1) special panels, composed of two-to-three Board members who undertake responsibilities on behalf of the full Board to keep abreast of specialized segments of the over-all intelligence effort; and (2) the Board’s Executive Secretary who devotes full time to review of the foreign intelligence effort both in the United States and throughout the various countries where our intelligence operations are conducted.

When I first met with the Board in January 1964, I was briefed on the highlights of a series of reports, including some 170 recommendations, which the Board had made to President Kennedy during the preceding three-year period. Many of its recommendations had been fully implemented, while others were in the process of being carried into effect by the agencies concerned. Reports which I have received from the Board subsequent to my initial meeting in January 1964 have singled out for continued, specialized attention a variety of problems including a number of subjects set forth in your memorandum. Within the next two weeks I expect to meet again with the Board to receive further reports and recommendations involving existing problem areas within the intelligence community.

With respect to other comments in your memorandum, I concur in your view that the CIA has made some progress in cutting down on superfluous employees, in bringing in talented specialists, in working more closely with the Department of State and its Ambassadors, in bringing in more modern scientific equipment and in accumulating an impressive library of useful data. I also subscribe to your view that the examples of Vietnam, the Congo and Cuba underline the need for developing much-improved indigenous, clandestine agent assets to augment the highly valuable intelligence which is now acquired through advanced scientific and technological means. The problem of [Page 488] developing such improved clandestine agent assets has been a matter of deep concern to the Board since its creation; indeed, the Board has repeatedly reviewed this problem with CIA and the military intelligence services in an effort to devise new means to meet this age-old and increasingly difficult situation.

With respect to the need for some basic institutional reform in the CIA, I can report that a number of worthwhile modifications have been made in the internal organizational structure of the Agency over the past four years. Other changes are under intensive review, including the very difficult problem of reaching a suitable solution to the “overt-versus-covert” questions to which you refer.

I believe that over the past four years, as a result of the combined efforts of the Administration, the Board and the heads of the several agencies concerned, considerable progress has been made in our total foreign intelligence effort. However, the situation today is not by any means perfect. With the aid of constructive suggestions such as yours, and with the assistance of the Board, I will continue to seek ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of all our intelligence agencies.

I thank you sincerely for your very useful and highly valued comments.


lbj 6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Confidential File, FG 11–1. Secret. Drafted by Johnson, Clifford, and Moyers.
  2. Attached is Humphrey’s undated memorandum to Johnson. Also attached is Clifford’s January 18 memorandum evaluating Humphrey’s memorandum together with a draft reply.
  3. Dated May 4, 1961. (26 Federal Register 3951) A copy is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Vol. 2.
  4. Not attached, but see footnote 3 above.
  5. Not found.
  6. Printed from a copy that indicates the President signed the original.